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We continue our look at the ‘Neolithic M1‘, which stretches from Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk across country to Lyme Regis in Dorset.
..winding with the chalk hills through Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire, it runs south-westwards from East Anglia and along the Chilterns to the Downs and Wessex; but the name is mysterious. For centuries it was supposed to be connected with the East Anglian kingdom of the Iceni: Guest confidently translated it as the warpath of the Iceni, and connected it with the names of places along its course, such as Icklingham, Ickleton, and Ickleford.
Excerpt From: Thomas, Edward, 1878-1917. “The Icknield Way.”
Today, the Icknield Way is part of the Greater Ridgeway long-distance path, but the actual extent of the original Icknield Way is open to debate. The acknowledged trail stretches from Knettishall Heath to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, but stretches of the trail south of here are also marked on the O.S. map variously as the Chiltern Way, Ridgeway and Icknield Way. Indeed, there is an Icknield Farm just NW of Goring where the path appears to terminate.
Starting our journey from Knettishall Heath, on the heath itself a kilometre or so to the east is Hut Hill, upon which stands a well-preserved bowl barrow, which stands to a height of about 0.5m and covers a roughly circular area with a maximum diameter of 32m. Further east is a similar barrow in Brickkiln Covert, whilst just a couple of kilmetres to the West, and north of the Little Ouse river stand the Seven Hills tumuli at Rushford. These are oddly named as only 6 barrows remain in this cemetery area.
The trail heads west from here, before dropping south through the ‘King’s Forest’ to West Stow, where a reproduction Anglo Saxon village (and museum) is sited. We visited here in 2014. Another Seven Hills barrow cemetery is located a couple of kilometres west at Rymer though this one has not fared as well as the one at Rushford, with only faint traces of four barrows remaining.
From West Stow the trail crosses the River Lark and heads southwest, toward Newmarket, and skirting the town to the south. The modern long distance path deviates from a natural line here to follow the modern roads (and bypass the town) but in prehistoric times I have no doubt that a straighter track would have been the preferred route. Throughout this section, there are various early medieval earthworks; Black Ditch, Devil’s Dyke etc, all crossing the trail at approximately right-angles. It’s been suggested that these were territorial markers, demarking portions of the old route. There are very few prehistoric burial sites on this stretch of the trail, though there are several moated houses, many dating back to medieval times.
Continuing southwest, we cross the River Granta at Linton, and a short distance east are the enigmatic Bartlow Hills – an early Roman barrow cemetery quite unlike any other I’ve seen, in that the barrows seem disproportionately tall compared to their circumference. The highest of the hills is 15 metres tall, but these days the site is shrouded by trees and it is easy to miss them.
From Bartlow, the modern trail heads west toward Royston, departing somewhat from what would have been the original route, and crossing the River Cam at Great Chesterford, just south of Ickleton village and the Roman Road which is now the modern A11 road. We’ll halt at Royston for a while, and pick up the trail in the next installment.
We like to think of our ancient monuments as silent, unchanging sentinels, but this isn’t always the case, sometimes they go walkabout!
One of the delights of visiting Cornwall is the chance to catch up with friends who live in the area and on a recent trip Philip, a friend of ours who knows of my penchant for old stones, presented me with the gift of an old Francis Frith postcard. In a slight diversion from my usual prehistoric focus, the postcard depicts the old cross at Cross Common, Landewednack, a short distance east of Lizard town.
For those that don’t know, Cornwall is littered with old crosses of various forms, many of which date back to medieval times (9th-15th centuries). Whilst many remain in, or near their original positions, many crosses have been discovered in various odd situations: used as gateposts, fireplace lintels and church benches or built into church walls, hollowed out and used as feed troughs (ref. Sithney Church cross). The cross at Landewednack, just east of Lizard town, indicates the road down to the church and the postcard shows the cross as it was in 1907 when the photo was taken.
Arthur G Langdon, in Old Cornish Crosses (1898) describes the cross at Landewednack as follows:
The cross stands on the right-hand side of the road leading from Lizard town to the sea.
The edge of the stone is outlined by a bead, and there is an entasis on the left side only of the shaft, the right being slightly concave.
Dimensions. — Height, 4 ft. 11 in. ; width of head, 1 ft. 11 in. ; width of shaft, 1 ft. 4 in.
Front. — On the front is a Latin cross, nearly the full height of the stone, formed in a similar manner to that on the cross at Pradannack, Mullyon. Within the bead on the head is the upper portion of the cross ; it is equal-limbed, and extends to the neck. At this level the bottom of the lower limb is suddenly narrowed, and for the remainder of the distance is indicated by two widely incised lines. Between these lines and the bead on the angles are two plain surfaces, the upper ends of which, where they terminate at the neck, are rudely shaped to the narrowed parts of the shaft.
Back. — On the head is an equal-limbed cross in relief having widely expanded ends.
On the postcard, which presents the view looking back toward Lizard town, the cross is in exactly the same location noted some nine years previously by Langdon. On the Ordnance Survey 6″ map, Cornwall Sheet LXXXIV.SE & XC.NE, published in 1908 the location of the cross is clearly marked to the south of the road.
Curiosity got the better of me as I couldn’t recall having seen this cross in my travels, so I revisted the area. Today the view presents a much different story. Taking a comparison photo from roughly the same location shows that the cross is no more. The rough stone wall on the left is still there, as are many of the same buildings and rooftops:
The reason for the lack of the cross is evident on a Google Streetview image – the cross would have been located roughly where today’s junction lines are painted, close to the wall. This would present an obvious safety hazard.
However, the cross has not moved far, just a few yards northeast of its previous location onto a grass verge on the opposite side of the junction. The Pastscape entry for the monument describes the cross as “just about in situ” again after several moves. This assertion is repeated in the English Heritage description of the monument. If this is true, and the cross is now ‘back where it belongs’, then the postcard is an interesting relic in the history of the cross.
There is just enough space to squeeze between the cross and the hedge to take a facsimile of the original postcard, showing the extent of the shift in location:
If anyone has any information about when or why the cross was moved, we’d be interested to hear it! A good resource on Cornwall’s old crosses is Arthur G Langdon’s original ‘Old Cornwall Crosses‘, available for free download in various formats from the Internet Archive. Alternatively a more up to date listing can be found in Andrew Langdon’s (no relation) excellent series of booklets available from the Old Cornwall Society.
For information on some more ancient stones on the Lizard peninsula, see our brief tour.
Now that the December hullabaloo has died down, (what? You’re still celebrating??) January is traditionally a time for the holiday brochures to make an appearance, and cold evenings huddled around a fire are spent dreaming of the sunnier, warmer days of summer ahead, and how to spend them. If you’re not one of those who go flying off to foreign climes, but prefer to explore the ancient heritage of the British Isles in a so-called ‘Staycation’, you may well be looking for some ideas.
Luckily, our friends over at the Heritage Daily have recently been putting together a few ‘Top Ten’ lists which may inspire you.
Firstly to set the scene, a list of the Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries in 2013. Not so much here on places to visit, though my personal favourite ‘local’ henge at Norton in Hertfordshire is included here. Whilst there’s not that much to see on the ground at Norton, taking in the wider landscape of the ‘Baldock Bowl’ can reap some rewards, whilst a few miles away is the largest longbarrow in Hertfordshire, just outside Royston.
If stone circles are your ‘thing’, a list of the Top Ten Circles in Britain should provide plenty of inspiration. From Brodgar in the north, to Stanton Drew and Stonehenge in the south, all the major circles are here.
Hillforts seem to be coming under attack from developers lately (see our recent stories on Oswestry), so why not get out and see a few while they’re still relatively free of housing? The Top Ten Iron Age Hillforts list features some spectacular forts, from East Lothian in Scotland, down to the South Coast.
If your tastes verge toward the more ‘modern’ side of ancient heritage, the Top Ten Roman Forts list should do for you, though we’re straying outside our ‘mainly Pre-Roman’ remit here As you’d expect, Hadrian’s Wall features prominently – if you’re a Romanist and haven’t walked it yet, I’m assured you’re missing out! But there are also shore forts from around the coast, so whichever part of the country takes your fancy, there should be something there for you.
So plenty there to get your travel plans under way, whether it be for a day trip, long weekend, or something a little longer. Why not tell us your plans for this year? Which sites are you hoping to see for the first time? Which old friends will you be revisiting? Let us know via the Comments.
A guest post by Heritage Action founder member, ‘Goffik’.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about the modern megaliths of North Wales. I know full well it’s far from comprehensive, but these were just the sites that we stumbled across on our travels. We had no idea that any of them existed until we chanced upon them, and so they were – each and every one – a complete surprise!
One that inexplicably slipped my mind at the time was one of the newer modern stone circles – built, as it was, in 2010 – called “Poet’s Corner”. It is to be found in the fabulous Greenwood Forest Park, in Snowdonia. Each of the 16 enormous slate slabs – all locally sourced from Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda – has been engraved, by Maricraft Slate World in Blaenau Ffestiniog, with Welsh poetry, which is translated into English on a nearby information board.
The feeling upon entering this circle is quite amazing. The stones are huge, and you get a wonderful sensation of security and isolation, and being separated from the outside world. Quite an achievement in a 3-year-old structure in the middle of a theme park!
You may be wondering what place an article about modern stones has on a journal concerned with preservation of ancient sites. For the vast majority of people, megalithic structures barely register on their everyday lives. Many don’t know of the existence of stone circles, other than Stonehenge. To bring to people’s consciousness the possibility that other such structures exist, and to instill in them a feeling of respect toward them, is surely a good thing. Hopefully, seeing these modern stones will encourage people to want to find out more about their origins, and that they will have a connection with them.
A modern circle is often, also, more accessible for some, as accessibility wasn’t always to the fore in our ancestors’ thoughts when constructing their monuments! And who knows? One day, with any luck, they, too, will be thousands of years old…
If you’ve visited, or know of similar modern circles in your area, Please do write in and let us know of your thoughts about such places. Many thanks to Goffik for sharing his.
A guest post by Heritage Action founder member, ‘Goffik’.
OK. Here’s a complete flight of fantasy and wishful thinking…
On a recent trip to North Wales, which included a disappointing lack of visits to ancient stones (but was a glorious holiday anyway!), I found myself paying attention to the multitude of seemingly random, or recently placed stones which graced our journeys.
Some of the stones made me wonder if they had any provenance in antiquity.
For example: along the Rhyl promenade, opposite the bright lights and sounds of the arcades, and backing onto the beach, are a group of recumbent boulders. Although I’m almost certain they’ve been placed there in recent times, I can’t help but think there was a deliberate effort to make them appear to be the remains of a ruined megalithic site.
What do you think? http://is.gd/KXL7he (Google Streetview link)
And – dammit – I can’t find the modern megalith I passed frequently along the same road. A 20ft (guess) slab of slate (again – guess) outside, as I recall, a bowling alley. It’s not uncommon, as signage goes these days, to use a stone to inscribe the name of the business upon, but at the base of this particular one is a lichen-covered boulder which – in a different context – could easily – speculatively – be considered as part of an ancient monument! I seem to remember several other boulders just behind it, to add to the fantasy…
However, further still, along the modern-megalithic promenade, is a wonderful stone circle… This circle is well documented – built, as it was, for the Eisteddfod – so there is no confusion as to its antiquity, although it would appear to have changed over the years, as witnessed by these two photographs: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2665024 and http://rhyl-life.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/stones.html
We saw another fine example of a modern Eisteddfod stone circle on a visit to Llandudno, and Great Orme. At the foot of the hill, not far from the cable car, is Happy valley – a beautiful, completely man-made (or at least enhanced) wooded garden, for want of a better description – and it deserves a better one! In an open area at the bottom is the circle, which was constructed in 1963 for the aforementioned Eisteddfod. It is visible from various viewpoints, including the cable car, footpaths, the road and the pier. If you have good eyesight.
Although the web has much better images of the circle, these are mine, first as taken from the cable car as it passed overhead:
And another, taken at ground level this time.
On our way home, we took a diversion through Llangollen, and discovered yet ANOTHER Eisteddfod circle! This time in the grounds of Plas Newydd. Constructed for the 1908 Eisteddfod, it is located between beautiful architecture and topiaries. It also has the added bonus of a faux cromlech in the centre!
We’d not planned to visit any of these places beforehand and so had no idea that we were going to see anything like it! Therefore we hadn’t swotted up on any info surrounding them, so it was all a pleasant surprise.
Even though Wales is absolutely stuffed with genuine prehistoric remains, each of these places is well worth a visit – we’ll definitely be spending more time at each of them. Especially, I suspect, Plas Newydd. And Great Orme.
This is the first of in an occasional series in which we ask members and readers (including you if you would like!) to give us a brief impression of their very earliest encounters with ancient sites. First up is Founder Member Graham Orriss…
I’m certain I’m not alone here, but as a child, I didn’t appreciate the wealth of ancient history I had access to. In fact I found the whole idea of “history” quite a boring one! I had no interest in it whatsoever. Which was a shame, as my friends and I were regular visitors to such amazing sites as The Five Knolls, on Dunstable Downs. My Dad frequently took us to the hillfort at Totternhoe Knoll for a run around; the chalk pit at Sewell, which houses part of the ramparts of Maiden Bower; Ivinghoe Beacon… I had no idea what any of these things were until long after I’d moved away from the area.
The trouble, as far as I can see, is that Dunstable (the town that I grew up in) was very important in Roman times, where it was known as “Durocobrivae”. Therefore, anything prior to the Roman’s arrival was pretty much glossed over in the classroom.I have vague memories of mentions of prehistory, but there was very little. Sadly.
I rarely have an excuse to go back there nowadays. I had a great childhood, running around these sites with no knowledge I was doing so. I’d love to see what I enjoyed as a child through adult eyes; see what I missed. Maybe it’s a good thing. I enjoyed them in my own way without hindrance, as I now enjoy them as an adult with respect.
A couple of years ago now, Heritage Action member ‘Scubi’ (Chris Brooks) documented his ‘trip of a lifetime, Scottish Adventure‘ around the highlands and islands of Scotland, visiting many of the prehistoric monuments on the islands.
And now, regular reader Mark Griffiths has documented part of his own trip to Orkney on his personal blog.
As Mark says in his introduction:
Prehistoric Britain exists all around us, with standing stones jutting out of the ground all over the countryside, and chambered tombs tucked into shady corners of modern housing estates. But there are several ‘prehistoric landscapes’ where great swathes of the country are kept as once they were, and it doesn’t take much imagination to feel a tremendous resonance with the past. Remote in both time and space, places like Mitchell’s Fold and Bryn Celli Ddu hold a special fascination for me. Larger landscapes, such as the justly-famous Stonehenge and Avebury sites in Wiltshire, even with the close proximity to the modern world, and the super-attraction tourist status they have, still have the power to evoke a certain something.
Certainly words that resonate with us here at the Heritage Journal! He continues:
Orkney, however, is a particular favourite of mine. A collection of 90 islands off the north coast of Scotland, the islands are made of Old Red Sandstone, which is excellent for building with as it can be quarried into blocks with ease. Perhaps it was this very fact that led to prehistoric folks settling here all those years ago. From about 3500BC it is believed the islands were being settled, as the hunter-gatherer way of life settled down into farming.
His account includes some stunning photographs – I suspect the islands are similar to Cornwall with regard to good light, I’ve yet to see a bad photograph of the monuments there!
Mark visits all the usual sites in his blog: Skara Brae, Barnhouse, Stones of Stenness, Brodgar, Maes Howe etc. and it makes a good read. His blog name includes the epithet ‘Heritage Hunter!’ as a tag line, so we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his future posts…
If you’ve experienced your own ‘trip of a lifetime’ to a British heritage site or sites, why not drop us a line and let us know about it so we can feature your trip here too?
Last weekend was a Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK, and with the first real view of blue skies of the Summer, it was time to take to the road for another Heritage Drive. The plan this time was to take a circular route from London, up the A1 to Letchworth, across to Cambridge, then heading south again via Saffron Walden and Bishop’s Stortford back to London, taking in various heritage sites en route.
Turning off the A1M at the Letchworth junction, our journey proper starts with a trip northeast across the ‘Baldock Bowl’, so called by the Norton Community Archaeology Group, who have a long term project running just north of Letchworth on the western side of the bowl, investigating a Class Ia henge with internal post setting and two ditches, amongst evidence of other contemporary monuments. But as we follow the A505 toward Baldock we pass an area which includes another prehistoric monument, the Weston Hill Henge.
Past Baldock, we continue on the A505, which for some of its length follows the line of the Icknield Way ancient track, until just before Royston we see on the horizon to the right the barrow cemetery of Therfield Heath, which we’ve featured here on the Journal before. Royston of course, is named after the glacial erratic stone which features in the centre of the town, close to the entrance to Royston Cave, a possible medieval hide-away or meeting place with some intriguing carvings.
Joining the A10, we next head up toward Cambridge, turning off after the village of Harston, to head toward Hauxton and the Shelfords. Our next scheduled stop is the church at Little Shelford (turn left into Church Lane), where although the church has a web site there is no information whatsoever about the history or structure of the church, which has several old carved stones embedded within the tower, porch and on the southeast wall. It would be interesting to know the history of these stones, but the church was locked on my visit, so I don’t know if an information booklet is available.
Back on the road, we head toward Great Shelford, and the A1301. Our destination is a short distance north east on Granham’s Road. After passing the White House farm, there is a pull-in with a Public Footpath sign. From here we set off on foot toward Addenbrooke’s Hospital in the distance, before following the bridle path round to the left, to Nine Wells nature reserve. This is a small area, with several natural springs, now formed into three separate springheads. In 1614, Cambridge needed a new water supply. Thomas Hobson built a causeway bringing water from the springs at Nine Wells into the city centre. But he had another claim to fame. Thomas Hobson hired out horses, but hirers had to take the horse closest to the door. This led to the expression “Hobson’s Choice” meaning “No choice”!
Continuing on, and turning right onto the A1307, we come to Wandlebury Park on the left by the dual carriageway, the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort, within the Gog-Magog Downs, site of Tom Lethbridge’s now legendary hill figures. The hill fort is now part of a Country Park and popular with families and dog walkers alike. The car park was busting at the seams when we arrived and we did not stop to investigate on this occasion.
Cutting back west past Audley End to head south on the B1383 we passed close by the site of the Ring Hill hill fort, now overgrown and as far as I know, inaccessible on private land. The next village south was Newport, home of the Leper Stone, a prehistoric standing stone more recently used as a receptacle for alms for inhabitants of a nearby leper hospital. Also in the town, near the railway station, is a large puddingstone, possibly one of the sites on the supposed ‘Puddingstone Trail‘.
Nearing the end of of own trail, we pass through Ugley, where another Puddingstone lies at Ugley Green, and Stansted Mountfitchet, site of a replica Norman Castle and Toy Museum – fun for all the family is apparently guaranteed!
And finally to Bishops Stortford, where Wallbury Camp, yet another hillfort in this mostly flat part of the country, lies just to the south of the town on a private estate, hidden by trees.
The variety of heritage on a trip like this just goes to show how much it’s possible to see, from many different periods, on a day trip by car from North London. Why not tell us about your own trips?
As part of our own September Heritage month I decided to take a drive out from London to see what we could see at the weekend. As friends of ours were dancing at the annual Wallingford Bunkfest, that was our prime destination as we headed up the M40 on Sunday morning.
Turning off at the Lewknor junction with a pair of Red Kites swirling overhead, we dropped south to Watlington, with the route of the Icknield Way on our left running parallel to the road. There is debate in some parts as to whether the Icknield Way is truly part of a ‘Neolithic Superhighway’. Undoubtably there are sections of the Way that are extremely ancient, but whether the entire route was in use as a concerted whole cannot be proved.
At Watlington, the ‘White Mark‘ sits on the hill overlooking the town. The Watlington White Mark was designed by local squire Edward Horne, who felt that the parish church of St. Leonard, when viewed from his home, would be more impressive if it appeared to have a spire. He had this unusual folly cut into the chalk escarpment of Watlington Hill in 1764. It is 36 feet (11 m) wide at its base and 270 feet (82 m) long.
South of Watlington, the Icknield Way splits into Swan’s Way and the Ridgeway, rejoining south of Wallingford, and at this point we turned west toward Benson, the site of the neolithic Benson Cursus, now covered by an airfield. There is sadly nothing left to see of the cursus here.
And so into Wallingford itself across the medieval bridge, which still only allows for single file traffic. Bunkfest is named after the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway, also known as the Bunk Line, and is an annual celebration of music, song and dance. The main events are held on the Kine, a green area in the centre of town and there were several craft stalls, a small exhibition of miniature steam engines, the obligatory beer tent, and two stages for bands and the various Morris sides to perform.
Having met with friends and enjoyed watching a dance or two, we left Wallingford via the bridge again, and headed southeast, toward Henley-on-Thames.
Continuing east, Nettlebed has a brick kiln in largely good condition, and a couple of geological curiosities in the form of two large puddingstones (pdf link). Both of these items have information boards available, and kudos to the parish council for including QR codes linking to the local web site on the info boards!
Continuing through the atmospheric Nettlebed Woods southwest toward Henley, we turned north just before the town to follow the bend of the river then east again toward Medmenham, site of an Iron Age hillfort which sits on a bluff, overlooking the church and the river beyond. The site of a second fort also lies close by, in the grounds of the Danesfield Hotel.
Passing through Marlow, we then headed north on the A404 and finally east on the A40 back to London. Our final stop was at Bulstrode Camp, another Iron Age hillfort in Gerrards Cross. The camp is now a large open space surrounded by upmarket housing, largely used these days by dog walkers.
And thus our Heritage Drive came to an end. An enjoyable, if long, day taking in a plethora of heritage site from the Ice Age (Nettlebed) through to the present day, although there were doubtless a lot of heritage sites that we missed or passed close by to. If you’ve had a similar day, or are planning one this month, why not tell us about it?
Summer seems to be running a little late this year, so with that in mind, we’d like to try something a little different next month, and Dear Reader, we’d like your help to do it!
As regular readers will know, we’re advocates of getting out and seeing our (pre-Roman) archaeological sites as often as possible, and we’ve previously written on how to prepare for and enjoy such visits.
Now, if we can, we’d like to get an idea of how many people are actually visiting the monuments and where they’re going. So if you’re planning a day out (or longer) in September; be it a hike across the moors to see some rock art, a day out with the family to a curated ‘attraction’ such as Stonehenge, a stroll across the local common which has some barrows still visible, or even if you’re working on an archaeological dig somewhere, please let us know.
It would help us immensely if you could fill out our short survey form about your visit, it would be very much appreciated. All personal details will be held in confidence and not shared with any third parties.
- Date of visit
- Site(s) visited
- Number of people in your party
- Reason for selecting this site
- General impressions of the site and your visit
Or feel free to Tweet us or drop us a line via our Facebook Page. We’ll collate statistics for the returns we receive, and will provide summaries of the sites visited. If you’d be happy to write a full blog post about your trip, we’d love to see that too!
We look forward to hearing about your trips throughout next month!